Those three letters, in that configuration, are part of every human language. Isn’t that a trip? We all speak huh. Everyone on the planet — sophisticate to aborigine, palace occupant to cave dweller –– uses the same expression to say the same things. Huh is capable of communicating all kinds of stuff: confusion, disbelief, doubt, scorn, surprise, and, of course, what?
A merry band of Dutch researchers, who hadn’t originally set out to study huh, said the term kept popping up in nearly identical sound and usage in 31 vastly different languages. Everything from Cha’palaa (spoken by a minority of Ecuadorians) to Icelandic to Murriny Patha (spoken among Aboriginals in Australia). That’s pretty universal, all right.
So there you have it. The one thing the entire human race can agree on is huh. It’s not even a word, really, more of an utterance. A grunt. Probably a holdover from prehistoric times, like a vestigial remnant.
The big news, in my opinion, is that the research was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize. What’s an Ig Nobel, you ask? They’re a spoof of the original and highly coveted Nobel Prize, honoring the quirkier achievements of science. (Ig Nobel, get it? Ignoble? It took hours for that to dawn on me.) They are, hands down, tons more fun than the real awards.
Some of this year’s other deserving honorees:
Physics – For testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals, regardless of size, empty their bladders in roughly 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).
Patricia Yang (Georgia Institute of Technology, US) and colleagues
Mathematics – For trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed to father 888 children between 1697 and 1727.
Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer (University of Vienna, Austria)
Diagnostic medicine – For determining acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain suffered when a patient is driven over speed bumps.
Diallah Karim (Stoke Mandeville Hospital, UK) and colleagues
Physiology and entomology – For painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and for carefully arranging to be stung repeatedly by honey bees in 25 different places to learn which are least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm) and which are most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).
Awarded jointly to Justin Schmidt (Southwest Biological Institute, US) and Michael L. Smith (Cornell University, US)
And that’s the latest news from the 25th Annual Ig Nobel Awards in Boston. Stuff that in your beaker, Alfred Nobel.